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The Benefits of Meditation for Seniors

While most health concerns with aging revolve around our physical bodies, worrying about things like blood pressure, blood sugar, aches and pains, or other metrics, equal attention should be paid to mental health. After all, our bodies operate as one holistic unit, both mind and body. To that end, practicing mindful meditation can promote many benefits, both mental and physical.

Since the year 5000 BC, people all around the world have been practicing meditation. The practice is all about cultivating awareness, presence, and non-judgment. Through regular practice and training, it offers a different way of dealing with stress, by calming the mind and body. And one of the best parts about meditation is that it can be practiced almost anywhere, at any time, with no barriers to entry or equipment to utilize. Simply put, meditation is practiced by sitting or lying down comfortably, relaxing, and closing your eyes to focus on your breathing and letting your thoughts drift through your head without focusing or dwelling on them. The idea is to observe and accept your thoughts as they come, without judgment, and without worrying about the future or dwelling on the past. Mindful meditation is about focusing on the present moment, and shutting out the distractions of the modern world for a time.

When you meditate, your breath and heart rate slows down, your blood pressure drops, and stress and tension in the body decreases. While these effects alone would be enough to incorporate regular meditation practice into your life, that’s just the beginning of the benefits for older adults. Meditation stimulates the memory centers of the brain, giving you enhanced short-term and long-term memory. Studies have even suggested that regular meditation practice can help ward off developing Alzheimer's or dementia. While up to 50% of seniors aged 85 or older have some sort of dementia, it is emphatically not a normal part of aging. Many people live into their 90s or beyond without developing any form of dementia.

Another somewhat surprising benefit of meditation is improved digestion. While you might be confused as to how sitting and thinking your thoughts for a while can help your stomach, it just goes to show you how much control your mind has over your body at large. The deep breathing of meditation improved circulation and oxygen levels in your blood, helping the digestive process.

Meditation is also a great way to manage our moods and emotions, as well as improve focus. Regular meditation gives you some mental distance between a stimulus and your reaction, allowing you to approach difficult situations with more of a clear head. Not only that, it can also change the physical structure of the brain, shrinking the amygdala which governs negative emotions, and enlarging the prefrontal cortex where self-awareness, planning, and personality development occur.

The easiest way to begin with meditation is the same with anything else. Start small and build up over time. Set up a space in your house where you can be comfortable and free of distractions, and start with as long as you feel comfortable with. Eventually, you want to work up to at least 20 minutes a day. Focus on your breathing, and let your thoughts drift through your head, acknowledging them without dwelling on them. And while that sounds too easy to be true, the trick is keeping at it.